Review: 'The Book of Mormon' at Miller Auditorium is Huge and Hilarious

A community of Ugandans giving God the middle finger in a most exuberant and tuneful way in response to the poverty and AIDS that has befallen them is but one of many surprisingly delightful numbers in the musical The Book of Mormon. When the show, now one of the longest-running shows on Broadway, opened in 2011, it may have been more shocking than it is today, but the satire remains wildly popular—and for good reason.

Written by animated comedy South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in collaboration with Avenue Q co-writer Robert Lopez, the show tells a ridiculous story of how a couple of mismatched Mormon missionaries attempt to convince an African village to join their church. Scrotum maggots, exceedingly sensual baptism, choreographed dysentery, sex with amphibians (instead of babies), and sprouting genitals in surprising places ensue amid lies and identity crises.

On the face of it, the story may seem as if it’s a satire of Mormonism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it actually points out the absurdity of all religion while simultaneously glorifying the power of faith and ritual. The faith and ritual are largely that of musical theatre itself, and The Book of Mormon is a truly marvelous homage to the form through its excellent, memorable score and musical numbers.

Indeed, the big ensemble numbers are the best part of the show. Casey Nicholaw’s choreography is inspired and runs the gamut from tap to African dance to modern and beyond. For example, part West Side Story, part Flashdance, with a nod to The Karate Kid, “Man Up,” offers a gang of Mormons, with a punk flair in costumes from Ann Roth, who, amid pelvic thrusts, sing about how Jesus had to “man up.” It’s a scream, and but one of many huge numbers that make this show such a treat.

And they were particularly important to the opening night performance at Miller Auditorium because the vocal sound was so poor some of the jokes didn’t land. Unfortunate, but it’s a credit to the show and the performers that there was still plenty to admire, even technically. The 10-piece orchestra sounded terrific, and Scott Pask’s set design impressively moved locations from an airport interior to the depths of hell to heaven to an African village beautifully.

The performances are largely excellent, and though this tour’s ensemble is somewhat pared down in number, they still create big sound and a full stage. Sam McLellan is a dynamic and charismatic Elder Price, and he makes the personal transformation of this character feel nuanced and real. He more than does justice to “I Believe.” Sam Nackman plays the nerd Elder Cunningham to the hilt, almost too much so, as a cartoonish stereotype. And Berlande plays a warm Nabulungi who is a lovely singer.

Ultimately, this tour successfully delivers on the promise of The Book of Mormon as a terrifically fine musical comedy in the classic sense that is also a bold satire that pokes fun at everyone without losing heart. Despite poor sound that often made dialogue and lyrics hard to make out, the hilarity, talent, and largesse of this show were abundantly clear.

The Book of Mormon
Miller Auditorium
Jan. 27-28